Pennsylvania Field Office
Northeast Region
1 2 3 3
Hydropower Activities

The Pennsylvania Field Office reviews non-federal hydroelectric projects that are licensed or exempted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the Federal Power Act. We review projects in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, collaborating with our state, federal and non-government partners to accomplish common ecosystem conservation and restoration goals.

We evaluate the effects of hydropower projects on fish and wildlife resources. FERC regulations, as authorized by the Federal Power Act and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, require license applicants and licensees to consult with the Service prior to and after project licensing so the Service can provide recommendations, terms, conditions and, in some cases, fish passage prescriptions, to FERC. These recommendations, terms, conditions and prescriptions may be incorporated into project licenses, to the extent that they are supported by comprehensive plans (e.g., State Wildlife Action Plans; Fisheries Management Plans) or other reliable information. Recommendations, terms, conditions and prescriptions may address the following:

  • protection of fish and wildlife resources
  • mitigation of damages to, and enhancement of, fish and wildlife resources for licensed projects
  • mandatory prescriptions for fish passage
  • mandatory conditions for the protection, mitigation of damages to, and enhancement of fish and wildlife resources for exempted projects
  • mandatory terms and conditions to provide for the protection and utilization of federal lands, including National Wildlife Refuges, upon which proposed hydropower projects may be located

Our involvement in the FERC hydropower licensing process provides opportunities to:

  • ensure safe, timely and effective upstream and downstream fish passage
  • restore more natural river flows downstream of projects
  • restore flows to dewatered river reaches
  • protect and enhance aquatic and riparian fish and wildlife habitat
  • reduce reservoir fluctuations
  • protect federally listed threatened and endangered species
  • improve water quality

These efforts integrate some of the Service's other programs as we coordinate our hydropower activities with our Endangered Species program, and we work with our Fisheries Division and Region 5 Fish Passage Engineering team on diadromous fish restoration (e.g., on the Susquehanna River).

Diadromous fish species include both anadromous and catadromous species. Examples of anadromous species include American shad, alewife and blueback herring. These species spend most of their lives in salt water, and upon reaching sexual maturity, enter estuaries and migrate upstream into freshwater rivers and streams where they spawn. Juveniles spend a short amount of time in these freshwater habitats before migrating downstream to the ocean.

An example of a catadromous species is the American eel which generally spends most of its life in freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. Upon reaching sexual maturity, it migrates downstream to salt water, where it spawns in the Sargasso Sea. Eel larvae (leptocephali) drift along the continental shelf, metamorphosing into glass eels, which are transparent, and then elvers (yellow pigmented juveniles) which migrate into estuaries and freshwater habitats where they will remain for many years before reaching sexual maturity (silver eels). The American eel is also a good example of a host species for the glochidia (larvae) of freshwater mussels. Most freshwater mussels depend on host fish in order to complete their life cycle. The American eel is the primary host for the eastern elliptio mussel (Elliptio complanata). By providing passage to American eel at hydroelectric dams, the Service is helping to restore the eastern elliptio which, in turn, provides significant water quality benefits due to its filtering capacity (Maryland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office). There are also many federally listed threatened and endangered mussel species in some Pennsylvania rivers (e.g., Allegheny River), and the Service is working to provide safe, timely and effective upstream and downstream passage to mussel hosts at hydropower dams on these rivers.

Success in the hydropower program requires a long-term project planning commitment (the FERC licensing process averages 7 years to complete) and many years of post-license implementation, follow-up and compliance verification. However, these activities reap tremendous long-term (30-50 years) fish and wildlife benefits.


Last updated: June 21, 2017